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The Defining Five: Clemson

By Grant Mitchell | December 06
Clemson tech
Photo: Kim Klement

The #3 Clemson Tigers defeated the Virginia Tech Hokies 45-10 Saturday night in Blacksburg, Virginia.

The score line was extremely unfair to the VT defense, who played some of their best ball of this season. Offensive inefficiency, costly turnovers and injuries plagued the Hokies’ chances of defending Lane Stadium, while Clemson waltzed their way to another Atlantic Coast Conference Championship matchup.

Special recognition should go to Khalil Herbert and Divine Deablo, who each captained their side of the football the best they could.

Herbert totaled 96 rushing yards and a touchdown on 21 carries and did an extraordinary job of consistently finding holes in a loaded box overrun with NFL talent.

Divine Deablo made the most memorable play of the home team’s night, picking off Trevor Lawrence in the back of the end zone, although other members of the secondary took turns stepping to the plate as well. Armani Chatman and Brion Murray specifically received high praise from Kirk Herbstreit during the telecast for their outstanding individual play.

Saturday’s result marked the second time in Head Coach Justin Fuente’s five seasons in charge that the Hokies suffered a four-game losing streak. Prior to his arrival, this had not happened since 1992.

Though it may have been unjust, the final score told the story of the game. The Tigers covered a 22-point spread and may have stuck the proverbial nail in the coffin of Fuente’s career in Blacksburg.

This game was very complex on multiple levels, yet the final outcome can be explained through five key plays. They are as follows:

4:37 left in the first quarter

Braxton Burmeister, who sat second-chair to Hendon Hooker on the opening Hokie possession of the evening, was given his first turn at running the offense since week three on the next drive.

Burmeister went 4/4 for 65 yards passing and added five yards rushing on an early third-down conversion. The biggest moment of this series came when the Junior quarterback lofted a pass to Tayvion Robinson on a crossing route that the wideout took to the Clemson four-yard line, resulting in a 48-yard gain.

Khalil Herbert made good on Burmeister’s early efforts the very next play, punching the ball into the end zone for a resounding score.

7-3 Hokies.

1:12 left in the second quarter

While reprieving starting running back Travis Etienne, Clemson’s Lyn-J Dixon powered back-to-back 19-yard runs through the Hokie defense, with the latter amounting to a touchdown.

Dixon’s score was of the highest quality, making two decisive cuts in the middle of the field before spinning out of the usually reliable hands of Alan Tisdale.

Given that the Tigers had been severely out-possessed and bereft of offensive opportunities throughout most of the first half, this almost three-minute long, 75-yard drive seemed to have given them all of the momentum with just a minute left until halftime.

17-10 Tigers.

0:02 left in the second quarter

Burmeister completed a 42-yard Hail Mary pass to Raheem Blackshear, who was forced out of bounds at the one-foot line as time expired.

This play came immediately after a 21-yard run by the ever-reliable “Juice” Herbert had moved the Virginia Tech offense into the positive side of the field. The events that preceded Herbert’s big gain, however, left many Hokie fans baffled and enraged.

With 1:06 on the clock and the ball at the VT 32-yard line, the Tech coaching staff dialed up an inside zone to Khalil Herbert. The game plan had been to be conservative, though the Hokies were the largest underdogs they had been at home in 32 years and had nothing to lose after playing their best defensive half of the season.

What came next was even worse: rather than stopping the clock with one of his three timeouts or instructing his QB to spike the ball, Justin Fuente contently stood with his hands in his pockets as the entire play clock ran out. Had he had faith in his team and called the next play out of the hurry-up, as any impassioned coach would have, Herbert’s 21-yard run could have occurred with 30 seconds left in the half as opposed to two.

"They had three timeouts also. I'd do it again, playing these guys."

— Justin Fuente

Fuente does not agree with the criticism that has come against him, though the real jurors will be found on the University administration.

Perhaps a great pitch and catch by Burmeister and Blackshear fell short out of destiny: Fuente coached scared and tried not to lose the game as opposed to outrightly winning it, and the results followed in kind.

17-10 Tigers.

5:38 left in the third quarter

Divine Deablo made an exceptional play, reading Trevor Lawrence’s eyes and beating Clemson’s Braden Galloway to the football, intercepting the Heisman favorite’s pass in the back of the end zone. Deablo had been zoned for the far half of the field but used his experience and recognition to cut off the opposing tight end’s drag route across the back line.

The star safety has consistently been the playmaker for the Virginia Tech defense this season and added another arrow to his quiver with this highlight.

Unfortunately for the Blacksburg squad, the offense could not reciprocate Deablo’s elevation in play. After misplacing a rushed pass on the play prior, Braxton Burmeister coughed up the second of four Hokie fumbles on the night. Two plays later Trevor Lawrence glided into the end zone for six points and extended his team’s lead to 14.

24-10 Tigers.

1:41 left in the third quarter

After being subbed back into the contest for Burmeister, who had twisted his knee the series prior, Hendon Hooker fumbled a snap for the second time in the game. The ball hit the Hokie quarterback right in his hands and was bobbled four times before being spilled onto the ground and retrieved by Clemson’s Derion Kendrick, who saw nothing but empty turf in front of him as he sprinted into the end zone for a 66-yard scoop and score.

Hooker appeared to be in extreme discomfort on the sidelines following this sequence of events, as if he were suffering from non-muscular internal issues. The North Carolina native was quickly escorted to the locker room.

Though there was still over a full quarter of football left to be played at that point in time, the game was over. The clock-chewing approach of the Hokies that had seen early success had flamed out, defensive stands were met with uninspired offense, and the coaching staff looked flimsy in the limelight as usual.

31-10 Tigers.

The 27-year streak of bowl game appearances seems to be drawing to an ever-closing end while the reputation of the program continues to decline.

Hokie Nation is being given a front row seat to the downfall of their beloved team, whom they have been bred to support through thick and thin.

All that is left to recoup some belief from the fans is the Commonwealth Cup, scheduled to take place Saturday, December 12th at 8 p.m. (EST).

One thing is for certain, Tre Turner has not lost his focus on defeating the Hokies’ biggest rivals.

The Virginia Tech football roster is filled with quality and impact players all over. The biggest question being asked by fans, as a result, is where to go from here. Something is not working.

Justin fuente
Photo: Matt Gentry

A change in signal callers, complete staff overhaul and transfer portal prodding are all options on the table: picking the right one could save or ruin a teetering Virginia Tech reputation.

Tweet us @SonsofSatVT with your thoughts as to where the team should go from here.